During the summer, stay cool on casual Friday—without looking like a slob

Summer heat + casual Friday = wardrobe disaster. Don’t let it happen to you

You know him well. The guy around the office that takes Casual Fridays to new extremes in the summer, arriving in grass-stained shoes, baggy cargo shorts and an oversized T-shirt with his fraternity logo emblazoned on the front. And you think, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”

While a well-articulated office dress code is your HR team’s concern, what you put on in the morning is yours.

The requisite Monday-Thursday uniform makes dressing a cinch, with little thought required. It’s when the rules loosen up (officially or un-) on Friday and subjectivity comes into play that dad jeans, loud Hawaiian shirts and gnarly toenails creep in. And Fridays in summer are the highest-risk time for such sartorial blunders. So stock up on a few key items and follow a few simple rules for how to go casual while still dressing like you mean it during the dog days of summer.


Model wearing light grey linen-cotton blazer

Two button linen-cotton blazer. $275 at Banana Republic.

  • Cotton and linen rule. Look for a well-cut sport coat in a light, breathable fabric. Pair it with chinos, and le voila, the beginnings of your Summer Friday uniform.
  • If braving denim, it should be of the darker variety (save the distressed, broken in jeans for the weekend) and worn with a collared shirt.
  • While unabashedly sexist, men shouldn’t bare their toes or armpits. Pity, because it’s really, really comfortable. If you want to lighten up, wear your loafers or moccasins (not sneakers) with those handy no-show socks so you can show some ankle.
  • More relaxed accessories can keep your look sharp, without being stuffy. Braided belts, knit ties and a more casual canvas briefcase fit the bill.


Model wearing a navy merino wool flare skirt

Merino wool flare skirt. $170 at J.Crew

  • Work-worthy fabrics shouldn’t be too sheer or tight (check in natural lighting to see if your underthings are showing through). Ensure that the neckline and sleeve cut mitigate any rogue bra straps.
  • Keep a basic blazer or cardigan at the office and toss it on when the A.C. is cranked.
  • Fewer things ruin an otherwise polished look more than unwalkable heels. Only buy shoes that you can comfortably get around in. Feet should be kept groomed and neat, otherwise, don’t show them. No calluses or chipped polish. And no flip flops, or strappy stilettos—nothing too beachy or cocktaily.
  • Skirts and dresses can sit differently without tights on underneath. Try them on to check they aren’t too sheer or too short to be worn with bare legs to the office. If you can sit comfortably in a skirt without having to tug at the hemline, then it is likely a good length.

When it doubt, check your HR policy, or better yet, look to your peers—and those in the ranks above them. Another easy barometer is the purpose of your clothing. If it is used to do anything other than make money (like cut grass, play tennis or do yoga), do yourself, and your colleagues, a favour and leave it in the closet.

(Article first appeared on Canadian Business, June 2014)

Quoted in Fast Company (#pinchme)

I was really, really chuffed when @ambermac asked if I could answer some questions for Fast Company.



With networking technology like LinkedIn’s “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature at our fingertips, we sometimes forget the importance of face-to-face interactions. We stumble when it comes to business meetings, tweeting from under a cafe table or fist bumping when a handshake would do just fine–making little mistakes that could cost us big business.

Here are four rules of thumb when it comes to proper face-to-face business etiquette.


While it may seem inappropriate to hug a business colleague, it happens all the time. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a repeat offender, often bypassing an outstretched hand for a big embrace. Sure, it can be considered a warm gesture, but it can also overstep a line for some.

If you’re wondering how to start a meeting with a potential client or colleague, “a firm handshake, eye contact, and a soft smile while introducing yourself will do,” says etiquette adviser Karen Cleveland from mannersaresexy.com. Using the person’s name when meeting can also help you better remember it, she suggests.

If you’re a germaphobe or feeling under the weather, just be upfront and say you’re sick. Don’t go in for a fist bump instead. “Unless the person you’re meeting comes in for a fist bump, leave the college affectations for the kids,” says Cleveland.


When your meeting is underway, it’s important to stay on track. Too often we find ourselves reaching for our phones, interrupting the flow of conversation, without even noticing what we’re doing.

Cleveland recommends what she calls “topless meetings.” She isn’t talking about taking your shirt off, to be sure, but rather keeping all devices off the table to avoid distraction. “It … does wonders for removing the temptation to squeeze in a text or email when our attention should be on the meeting,” she says. “It’s similar to grade school: If you don’t want to share what you’re doing with the rest of the class, then don’t bring it.”

If you are bringing a device to a meeting, an iPad always seems less intrusive than plopping a laptop up on a table. What’s more, your tablet could be a great tool to illustrate something quickly.


When it’s time to pick up the tab, do you insist on paying or graciously accept a free lunch or coffee? Dorenda McNeil, a business etiquette trainer and principal at Counsel Public Relations, offers the following tips to help navigate that awkward moment when the bill arrives:


    Unless your guest is from a company that has a strict policy limiting acceptance of gifts or perks, always pay for dinner or lunch–especially if you invited them.


    If you’re having a lunch with three other co-workers, add the tip (20%) and split the bill four ways. It doesn’t matter if you only had a salad.


    Have you asked someone for an informational interview or are you requesting a reference? The person who stands to gain the most out of the meeting should automatically offer to pay.


    If your supervisor or boss invites you to lunch, it’s probably safe to assume they’re treating. However, it’s still polite to offer to split the bill and follow-up with gratitude (and don’t order the most expensive item on the menu).


If you’re breathing, you’re busy. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is we’re all juggling a million things and sometimes meetings have to be canceled. “Give your colleagues the same attention and respect you would want,” says Cleveland. “Don’t use busyness as a crutch for bad manners.” If you do have to cancel a meeting, give the person you’re meeting with as much notice as possible. What’s more, if your day is simply too packed to meet in person, consider video chatting on Skype or Google+ Hangouts.

It’s easy to let manners slip, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with information. Don’t forget to put your best foot forward when you’re taking the time to meet a person face-to-face. It will pay off in the end.

[Image: Flickr user cogdogblog]

“Good old what’s his face” – Canadian Business

Delighted to be quoted in Canadian Business, by the indomitable MrArdle.

Ask McArdle: Canned wine and Twitter feuds

And good old what’s his face

(Illustration: Peter Arkle)(Illustration: Peter Arkle)

There’s a guy in my office I’ve worked with for years, but I still don’t know his name. How do I fix this gaffe?

During my tenure with a government agency, there was a comely woman in my department. We worked on counterintelligence measures at the Ministry of Agriculture—let’s just say I encrypted, she decrypted. I could tell she admired the bristle of my moustache, yet I failed repeatedly to ask her name. This awkwardness continued for months, until I finally left an encoded letter upon her desk. And that, dear reader, is how I met Mrs. McArdle. For those not employed in state-sanctioned skullduggery, a more direct approach is warranted. “You can play the earnest card, or the humour card,” advises Karen Cleveland, an etiquette expert and proprietor of the delightful Manners are Sexy blog. Regardless, start by approaching the person with your hand extended, ready for a handshake. Then, either simply confess you are embarrassed to not know their name and introduce yourself or, if you are witty, make a quip about how “your memory recall started to go downhill at 25 years old.” (Cleveland warns “if you’re not funny, stick to the earnest approach, it will feel more authentic.”) If you are too sheepish for the direct approach, you can engage in a fact-finding mission by sneaking a look at their mail when it’s dropped at their desk. That way, you’ll at least know their name when you find yourselves next sharing an elevator.


(First published in Canadian Business, October 2013)

Tea etiquette, in one minute

Hope you enjoy watching this as much as I did making it.



The well-mannered year ahead: Kick off 2013 with some very polite resolutions

Karen Cleveland, Special to National Post


You don’t have to use a quill and inkwell, but handwritten thank-you notes will make all the difference in 2013.

Diets, schmiets. Such pedestrian resolutions are usually gone by spring, anyway. Reign in the unrealistic ambition and instead, consider your crisp new calendar the perfect opportunity to really commit to a better year. Karen Cleveland shares her tips on how to make 2013 your most polished, charmed, best year yet, one month at a time.

January: Give the consummate toast
The most memorable toasts are concise, eloquent and convey just the right amount of emotion. Start by surveying the scene. Everyone have a drink? Stand and clear your throat, or move to a more visible area to get their attention. Make your intentions known in a clear, confidence voice (fake one, if you lack one). “Thank you for coming, I’d like to raise a glass to [insert subject or occasion of your toast here].” Say a few kind words about your subject, then raise your glass higher and repeat the toastee’s name. People will drink on your cue. Purists don’t clink, they merely raise glasses. Larger audiences logistically prohibit a clink and eye contact with every single guest, so just do your best. If you are the subject being toasted, lucky you! Do not drink to yourself — simply sit back and revel in the moment.

February: Upgrade from emails to handwritten notes
I know, email is so much more convenient than sitting down to write notes by hand, but the same could be said of paper plates over dishes. Paper and handwriting is just, well, nicer. Stockpile some great stationary that you are actually excited to use and a surplus of stamps. Grab some scrap paper to scribble what you want to write and test out your pen. A good note should address the recipient (Dear friend), touch on the occasion (“Thank you for hosting an excellent dinner”) and any specifics (“Sorry again about that red wine incident, it’s a late Christmas miracle that it came out of the carpet”) and close with a fitting sign off (“Looking forward to returning your hospitality, Sincerely, you’). Sure, you could put this in an email, but doesn’t  the medium elevate the message?

March: Make your bed every morning, all month

Making your bed is a metaphor. It sends a signal to the universe, and to yourself, that you set aside few moments of each day to add some order to your life. No matter how hellish your day was, you can take solace in knowing there is a tiny little sliver of civility waiting for you, in the form of a crisply made bed. Do it for a month and see how you feel. Such small daily rituals can set the tone for other things in life. Whether that tiny ritual is making your bed, in the morning, not going to sleep with a sink full of dirty dishes, or not using your front entrance way as a dumping ground, relish in some little practices that honour your nest.

April: Spring clean your online persona
If someone were to Google you right now, or creep your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profile, what would they find? Years ago, before the marvels of social media, we lived private lives and actively chose what parts of ourselves we wanted to make public. Today that model is totally inverted. Take care of your online reputation in the same delicate way that you would your offline persona. Do some digging and relentlessly edit, untag and delete until you are happy with your online image.

May: Edit your closet
This is a considerable task to undertake but a gratifying and important one. Set aside a weekend day. Begin by taking everything out of your wardrobe and sorting it into three piles. Pile one is for things you regularly wear and that are in good repair. A second pile is for things that you want to wear, but need some love. The final pile is for items fit to donate or if they are beyond that, shred into rags. Remove this third pile from your home immediately, as you’ll be instantly more motivated with a good purge under your belt. Take things to be mended, pressed, polished or sewn as needed, then put everything back into your wardrobe in a state that it is ready to be worn. Rotate items so forgotten pieces get their due, and if space is an issue, store your fall and winter items separately (under the bed storage boxes to the rescue).You’ll likely realize that most of the items you pitched were things you never really needed to buy, or they were of such poor quality, they fell apart. Shop smart by sticking to well-made things that you’ll actually wear, and that are on point with your social and professional life.

June: Make memorable introductions
Your dazzling handshake should be accompanied by your first and last name when introducing yourself. If you struggle remembering names, try repeating the name of the person you just met (“nice to meet you, Robin”). You can try to draw some recall connections, like reminding yourself that Robin is wearing red. When introducing two people, introduce up. If you introducing your intern to you president, you would say, “President, may I introduce you to our newest intern, John”. A person of high rank, importance or seniority (I know, I cringe at that too) is named first and receives the introduction. If you are introducing two peers that haven’t met, providing some context can help the conversation along. For example, “I’ve been meaning to introduce you. John, meet Mike. You both spent time in Italy last year.”

July: Be the best damn cottage guest
Charm your hosts so much and you just might score invitations for every weekend until Labour Day. Confirm what time you should arrive so you don’t surprise your hosts and arrive with something awesome for them. Help with meal preparations and clean up and make your stay as least invasive as possible. That means not taking over the entire bathroom vanity, hijacking the iPod with your music or leaving your wet towel and stack of magazines on the dock. Thank your hosts for having you with a thoughtful handwritten note, which you mastered back in February, right?

August: Throw an “oh, it’s nothing” weeknight dinner party

Summer entertaining is inherently casual, so ever an intimidated host can pull together a Wednesday night dinner party with ease. Gorgeous fresh produce, BBQs and long, lazy nights beckon for unfussy dinners.  Invite your guests a week or so out, then use that week to set aside mini tasks. Shop for beer and wine one night, stock up on ice the next, buy flowers the night before, and before you know it, the night of your dinner will only need your actual meal preparation. Grill everything you possibly can: some bread to serve with a salad to start, fish, meat, veggies or pizza for a main, then some fruit (serve over ice cream) for dessert. A bucket of beer and wine on ice within arm’s reach, a plethora of white candles and a laid-back soundtrack for the night and you’re set. Best part of grilling your entire meal? Very few dishes to wash up.

September: Pour the perfect cocktail

Chalk it up to the revelry of TIFF or the siren call of comfort cocktails, but when temperatures dip, I’m ready for a proper drink. Master a classic cocktail that you like to drink, perhaps an Old Fashioned, Tom Collins, Manhattan or Negroni. Stock up on quality ingredients and barware then enlist a trusted group of tasters to sample your concoctions. Warning: your skills are bound to improve with every round you serve them: it’s just science. Feel free to tinker with a trusted recipe, but only after you’ve mastered the purist’s version.

October: Nail a power lunch (or breakfast, or dinner)
Breaking bread with a client can galvanize a relationship. Or ruin it. Pick a date and time first, then choose a venue that is reputable, conducive to talking business and conveniently located for your guest. Make a reservation. If you are going to try for a table at a hotspot that doesn’t take reservations, get there very, very early as not to keep your guest waiting twenty minutes for a table. Give them the better seat at the table and keep your phone off of the table. Instagramming your meal is verboten. Settle into some small talk (read the headlines that day) before delving into shop talk. When the bill comes, they who did the inviting typically grabs the cheque, but to hell with that custom if grabbing the bill saves you from an awkward moment. Follow up from your meal with whatever you promised you would and if it seems natural, touch on something non-business related, for example, “thanks for your time over lunch, Nicole. Attached is the concept we discussed. Have a great time at the Brickworks this weekend with your daughter.”

November: Call in sick like a grownup

Cold and flu season isn’t fun for anyone, so coming to work when you are knowingly contagious is a cardinal sin. Spare your colleagues from your gnarly germs by staying home. Call or email your boss explaining that you are staying home sick for the day (text message is likely too casual a medium to convey this). Touch on who-can-cover-off-what in your absence, and if you hazard a guess, say when you expect to be back in fine fighting form. No need to go into gory details, but a cursory descriptor of what ails you should suffice.

December: Indulge in a bit of the good life
In a month saturated with shopping and hosting others, what is the harm in picking up a little something for yourself?  Treat yourself to something that your heart desires. Surely those lovely sheets, fancy stemware or decadent bottle of scotch will benefit your guests just as much as you, right? ‘Tis the season!

(Published first in the National Post, December 2012)